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ICU Bed Numbers Dwindle in Florida as Coronavirus Cases Surge

Gov. Ron DeSantis is looking at hospital numbers, as are county commissioners as the state considers a partial Phase 2 reopening in the county. Only 23 percent of ICU beds are available in the county's 17 hospitals.

by John Pacenti, The Palm Beach Post, Fla. / June 17, 2020

(TNS)

Coinciding with the recent increase in cases of the novel coronavirus, the state is reporting a dwindling supply of beds at Palm Beach County hospitals and throughout the state in intensive care units.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he's looking at hospital numbers, as are county commissioners Hal Valeche and Robert Weinroth as the state considers a partial Phase 2 reopening in the county.

Currently, only 23 percent of ICU beds are available in the county's 17 hospitals, according to statistics compiled daily by the Agency for Healthcare Administration.

At JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, a source told The Palm Beach Post, about 100 patients there are suffering from the virus. The hospital Tuesday afternoon reported 7 percent of ICU beds available.

Bill Johnson, the county's director of Emergency Management said Tuesday that indeed hospitalizations have increased since the county reopened under Phase I.

On April 28 or before, county hospitals averaged 228 COVID-19 patients per day. It is now averaging 288.

Some hospitals were faring better than others and "hospitals have the capability to transfer patients between each other, COVID or not COVID," said Allen Poston, spokesman for Wellington Regional Hospital.

Even though Wellington, according to AHCA, has three beds out of 28 available, Poston said, "We have been fairly steady with the number of COVID patients in the ICU in the past several weeks."

Florida set a record number for new COVID-19 cases on Monday at nearly 2,800. Palm Beach County set its record on Sunday with 391.

Hospitals are required to report COVID infections to AHCA, but the agency is not making those tallies public. So it is unknown which ICU beds are taken up by patients with the coronavirus.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has claimed the increase in COVID-19 cases is due to increased testing.

Dr. Larry Bush, an infectious disease specialist at Wellington Medical Center, said one reason the hospital beds are full is because of a state order that seniors at elder care centers cannot be sent back until they test negative even if they are symptom free.

"I have a handful right here and they continue to test positive but are clinically fine," Bush said. "I understand why the nursing homes can't take them. You can't guarantee they are not contagious."

Another reason that hospital beds are taken up is that medical centers are now open for elective surgeries. "A lot of influx is not necessary COVID. It is routine hospital work," Bush said.

Bush said that Wellington has a contingency plan if it runs out of ICU beds, converting a surgical area if need be.

Other hospitals say they currently have ICU beds and are prepared.

Tenet Hospitals, which runs five medical centers in Palm Beach County, including St. Mary's Medical Center, said it wasn't worried about meeting the need for ICU beds.

"The number of patients in the ICU's across our system is manageable, and our critical care bed availability is greater than the Palm Beach County average reported by the Agency for Healthcare Administration," said spokeswoman Shelly Weiss Friedberg.

"In the event we see a surge of cases that need to be hospitalized, our hospitals have plans in place to continue providing care safely and include the ability to increase our critical care capacity."

Dilma Bennett, spokesperson for HCA Healthcare, which has three hospitals, including JFK Medical Center, also said ICU beds are currently available.

"As the situation evolves, we continue to place by accessing the resources, support and best practices across HCA Healthcare to help ensure we remain able to meet the needs of the communities we serve," she said.

JFK Medical Center was not the only county hospital to report less than 10 percent ICU beds available. Lakeside Medical, the only hospital in the Glades, had none of its six beds available. West Boca was down to about 9 percent and 6 percent for Good Samaritan.

Where the population is less elderly, Boca Raton Regional Hospital had nearly 22 percent ICU beds open.

Not all hospitals were feeling the pinch. Jupiter Medical Center about half of its ICU beds together and both Bethesda hospitals and Delray Beach Medical Center as well as St. Mary's were also in good shape.

The hospitals may be on the front lines for vaccine tests, which are coming sooner rather than later, Bush said.

"This population will be looked at for trials because of who we are and the amount of cases we have," he said.

jpacenti@pbpost.com

@jpacenti

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©2020 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

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